She Played Soccer at UVA. Now She Plays Basketball – With Deaf Teammates

February 22, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

The typical sounds of a basketball game were there – the thump of a bouncing ball, the squeaks of quick-moving shoes and the periodic blares of the buzzer – but University of Virginia professor Greg Propp was moved to tears by the sights. 

He saw players in unison, who high-fived one another after good plays and helped each other up after tough plays. He saw the joy in them as they made steals, grabbed rebounds and hit shots. He saw their constant communication. 

Most of all, Propp saw a former student thriving in a new environment.

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Cam Lexow, a UVA soccer player from 2019 to 2021 and a 2022 graduate of the University, is in her first year attending and playing basketball for Gallaudet University in Washington, the world’s only liberal arts college for students who are deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind. 

A number of hearing students are also enrolled at Gallaudet, where, for example, there’s opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree in interpretation. Lexow is seeking her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. She’s the only hearing student-athlete on the women’s basketball roster. 

She speaks to her classmates and teammates through her hands and expressions. A product of UVA’s American Sign Language Program, which Propp directs, Lexow has the skills to not only function among her deaf contemporaries, but to learn and grow from them.

Propp’s tear-filled eyes saw it crystal clear the first time he watched Lexow play in a Gallaudet uniform. 

“I told my wife this,” Propp said, “I got choked up. You know, I don’t have kids, but here’s someone who I was able to have a little to do with what she’s doing now. And she’s out there, obviously enjoying it and enjoying being a huge part of the community.”

It’s company Lexow chose with conviction.

From UVA to Gallaudet

Lexow majored in psychology at UVA and minored in ASL and Deaf culture. She limited her graduate school search to colleges with programs designed for students seeking to become counselors for deaf and hard of hearing people.

A side by side of Cam playing soccer and basketball

A multi-talented athlete, Lexow went from playing on the soccer team at UVA to the basketball team at Gallaudet.

This became a career focus, she said, after a course at UVA, taught by Christopher Krentz, opened her eyes to the lack of mental health resources available for the Deaf community. 

The University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, prominent institutions with grad programs that aligned with her ambitions, admitted Lexow, but the invigorating appeal of Gallaudet made her choice simple.

“I just knew I needed to learn from deaf people and be immersed in their community,” she said.

Lexow’s fascination with Deaf culture began, ironically, not far from Gallaudet’s campus. The Abington, Pennsylvania, native was out shopping in Georgetown with her family in the summer of 2019 when she was struck by the nature of an interaction between an Uber driver and his passenger.

She could tell the passenger was deaf, but that didn’t derail the conversation because the driver seemed fluent in sign language.

The small exchange had a big impact on a then-18-year-old just weeks away from enrolling in her first year of college.

“That moment made me realize that there’s a whole Deaf community out there that I wanted to know more about,” Lexow said. “I was like, ‘I want to learn sign language.’”

Cam typing and pointing on her laptop
Lexow is seeking her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Gallaudet.

That strong desire paired well with what Propp and his ASL colleagues offered at UVA. Lexow soon became a regular at the voluntary signing lunches, a weekly gathering on Fridays at Newcomb Hall where students work to improve their ASL skills in a social setting.

Those were “freeing” experiences to Lexow where she could take what she learned in the classroom and apply it with like-minded people. There’s no spoken discussion at a signing lunch. It’s sign language only.

“The signing lunches kind of brought everyone together, of different ASL skills,” she said. “You had professors who were fluent; you had 101 students who were just learning. ... You just became more comfortable after a while and were able to expand on different topics. It really helped.”

It was, perhaps, a glimpse into her future.

Cam with strong adult influences in her life

Lexow is forever appreciative of the education and guidance she received from her UVA ASL instructors, who recently attended one of Lexow’s games at Gallaudet. Pictured from left to right are Christopher Krentz, Greg Propp, Lexow, Maher Eshgi and Rocco DeVito.

“I have way more deaf or hard of hearing friends than I do hearing friends now,” Lexow said. “And I’m really happy about it.

“I’ve always kept my circle tight, but the people here are just so accepting and welcoming and nice and have become really great friends for me. They’re family.”


Propp, the son of deaf parents, has many family ties to Gallaudet. His mother graduated from the school in 1952, and his grandfather is in the school’s athletics hall of fame for football achievements.

A member of UVA’s faculty since the late 1990s, Propp has had several students go on to Gallaudet for grad school. Lexow, though, is his first to play a sport there.

Cam signing to classmate
At Gallaudet, Lexow speaks to her classmates and teammates through her hands and expressions.

Lexow played three years of soccer for the Wahoos – appearing in 48 games, scoring three goals and recording three assists – meaning she had remaining NCAA eligibility. When she told Propp she was considering athletics at Gallaudet, he, naturally, thought it would be for the Bison soccer team.

“And,” Propp said, “she was like, ‘No, basketball.’”

For Lexow, the soccer chapter of her life ended in 2022 when she decided to not return for a fourth season at UVA. Still itching to compete, she turned to the other sport she played in high school.

“Even at UVA,” Lexow said, “I would go to the Aquatic and Fitness Center and play in the intramural leagues just to get my basketball fix in because I missed it so much. So, when I realized I could play at Gallaudet, I was like, ‘I’m gonna pick basketball because I miss it.’ And I’m so happy that I did.”

Like Lexow, Gallaudet’s head coach, Stephanie Stevens, is a former NCAA Division I athlete. She played basketball at the University of Cincinnati – while studying ASL – before first joining the Gallaudet staff as a graduate assistant coach in 2010. During her decade-plus with the program, Stevens has coached only three hearing players, including Lexow.  

Cam with her coach

Gallaudet coach Stephanie Stevens, left, has admired not only Lexow’s passion for basketball, but the way she’s connected with her teammates.

Gallaudet, which competes at the NCAA Division III level against hearing teams, recently finished its season with a 17-9 second. Lexow led the Bison in steals and was second in scoring and blocked shots. 

“Cam’s a game-changer, and that’s the best way I can put it,” Stevens said. “And I’m not even talking about her skills, I’m just talking about the passion and the heart she has for this team. She wants to do everything she can for the team. I’ve been so impressed at the way she’s connected with her teammates.”

From the beginning, Lexow developed an appreciation for the talent around her.

“Everyone on my team can put the ball in the basket,” Lexow said. “Everyone can play basketball, simple. Hearing, deaf, hard of hearing, they can all play. They’re skilled. I feel like that's a big misconception from the hearing community.”

Being a hearing person on a Gallaudet athletic roster, though, means you’re an outsider. Not only did Lexow have to relearn the nuances of a sport she hadn’t played competitively in years – “The first three games,” Stevens said, “she was playing just like a soccer player. Too much spacing” – she had to do it without using her voice among deaf teammates. 

A large group of the ASL members gather for a photo on the court
A group of around 50 representatives from UVA’s ASL program traveled to Gallaudet earlier this month to support Lexow at her new school.

“I’m sure the difficulty in it makes her want it more because she loves that kind of challenge,” Stevens said. “She feeds off that. I think just thrives from that kind of environment.

“She just loves it here because she’s able to be challenged, not only on the basketball court, but learning ASL. She wants to do better. She wants to know all the signs that she can.”

Full Circle

On Feb. 3 at the Gallaudet Field House, Lexow scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds, handed out four assists and made two steals and two blocks as the Bison knocked off Penn State-Abington, 76-66. 

The scene that formed afterward was a fitting display of Lexow’s story. 

Still in her No. 1 Gallaudet uniform, she stood at midcourt and addressed a gathering of some 50 representatives from UVA’s ASL program who traveled by bus from Charlottesville to tour the campus and to see her play. 

A beaming Lexow thanked Propp and fellow ASL instructors Rocco DeVito, Maher Eshgi and Krentz, along with dozens of their students, for their support. At one point, she introduced the group to her Gallaudet teammates. 

The meeting carried on for a half-hour and concluded with several photo sessions. At every turn, the sign language flowed – with Lexow leading the conversation.

“I would not be here today,” Lexow said later, “without my experience at UVA.” 

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications